Drop-in Boot-campers: 3 Steps to a Safe and Positive Fitness Experience

The following is a guest post by Georgette Pann.

Drop-in boot-campers: Every group fitness program or boot camp fitness business gets them from time to time. There’s no time to do a full assessment, but turning them away or dumbing-down their workout too far leaves the newcomer frustrated and can leave a stain on your program’s reputation. In my 25+ years of leading boot camps and group fitness programs, I’ve identified key strategies to enable drop-ins to participate fully without risking their safety. 

In this article I’m sharing how I and my team handle fitness assessments on the fly and our top 3 methods for adapting workouts for unexpected newcomers.

My 3-Step System for Assessing on the Fly 

Just as with every training client, working with a drop-in boot-camper requires three steps:

1.     Assessment – determining the fitness level and ability of the client

2.     Programming – prescribing a workout program to meet the needs and abilities of the client

3.     Observation and adjustment – monitoring the client’s progress and making changes to the program as needed

Let’s look at each of the three steps and how to handle this challenging set of circumstances in a way that provides a safe and satisfactory experience for everyone involved.

First, though, I want to note that it’s critical that you have a pre-planned workout for each session. Trying to develop a workout on the fly while also conjuring up modifications for newcomers turns into a hot mess real fast. Most likely, you’ll end up having the whole class doing exercises at the newcomer’s level to save your brain from overloading. The result is a poor workout for everyone. For more about the necessity of planning your workouts and overall programming, see my article on the 5 Biggest Boot Camp Workout Blunders.

3 Questions for On-the-Fly Fitness Assessment

Any good fitness trainer knows that it takes more than three questions to get a complete assessment of a client’s fitness level and training needs. But we don’t need – and don’t have time for – a thorough assessment with drop-ins. Before we schedule them for a full assessments at another date, we just need to know enough to keep them safe from injury during this single workout. We can do this with some simple observations and by asking the following questions:

1.     Do you have any medical conditions or take any medications? If so, what are they?

2.     What are you currently doing for exercise? (If the answer is “nothing,” then also ask when they last worked out.)

3.     Do you have any injuries, physical limitations or exercises that you cannot do or that hurt to perform?

Always measure the client’s responses against what you observe about the client. Ask yourself these questions:

– Do they claim to exercise daily but look like its more of an annual event? 

– Did they deny having any physical limitations, but walk in with a limp? 

Always get clarification on any responses that raise concern or don’t jive with what you observe. 

Now it’s time to move on to the programming phase. First let me start by saying If none of the participant’s answers raise concerns,  I would integrate them into the planned workout and pay close attention to them and adjust accordingly 

Top 3 Exercise Modification Strategies for Newcomers

Now that you have a rough idea what their physical capabilities are, it’s time to adapt your planned workout to their fitness levels. In most cases, drop-in participants will need to have the workout intensity reduced for them. It may just be because they aren’t accustomed to the workout yet, or it may be because they have an injury, pain point or physical limitation they need to work around. In any case, let’s look at some good ways to modify exercises to accommodate this need. Keep in mind, this is for a generalized group workout scenario involving and a common starting point.

A comprehensive total body Boot Camp style work out which would include push pull squat deadlifts lunge I am going to share my approach starting with the top 3 regressions if the person is unable to do exercise technically correct or has an injury/pain (note: there will still be exceptions and we must keep in mind the boot camp type programs include lighter loads and/ or bodyweight work)

My top 3 regressions/ modifications for several main upper- and lower-body movement patterns.

Find the exercises that most closely resemble the ones in your scheduled workout and adjust downward a step or two.

Hip Dominant: Deadlift  =>  Resistance Band Deadlift  =>  Bodyweight Deadlift  =>  Bodyweight Hip Thrust

Quad Dominant: Squats  =>  Goblet/Front Squat  =>  Bodyweight Prisoner Squat  =>  Bodyweight Squat

Push: Press =>  Resistance Band Chest Press  =>  Elevated Pushup  =>  Pushup  =>  Incline or Wall Pushup

Pull: Inverted Rows  =>  TRX row  =>  BD Rows  =>  Resistance Band Rows

Lunge: Lunges  =>   Reverse Lunges  =>  Split Squats  =>  Split Squat Isometric Hold

Note: Weighted Exercises may be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls.

As I mentioned this list is not anywhere near comprehensive but rather a starting point for general scenarios. The only time I would deviate from this was if someone was having pain with certain exercise. 

Once the initial class was completed I would make sure to set up a private
 session for a planned assessment/evaluation properly assess and get more in-depth with clients goals.

Monitoring and Adjusting a Newcomer’s Workout for a Safe and Positive Experience

Even when following the exercise regression strategies above, it’s important to note that a person’s true fitness level won’t be revealed until they begin working out. Even though you’ve done your best to adjust the exercises appropriately for a newcomer, you need to keep a close eye on them during the workout. 

If you have overestimated their abilities, the newcomer will be at risk for injury. Newcomers may also get frustrated if they are not able to keep up with the rest of the class, such as still doing pushup number three when everyone else is on number 10. So, you need to be on the alert for signs that they are struggling

On the other side of the coin, if you have underestimated their abilities, a newcomer will get bored or frustrated. A bored or frustrated newcomer is less likely to become a permanent member of the boot camp. Some people may attempt to increase the exercise difficulty on their own, potentially overestimating their own abilities and risking injury. If their workout needs an extra kick to make it more interesting, make sure you’re the one to prescribe it, so you can be sure it is safe. The newcomer will appreciate this extra attention. 

Up-front Communication Clears the Way for a Positive Drop-in Experience

The most important rule to successfully integrating a drop-in participant into your workout session is communicating clearly and openly. The key points to communicate are:

  • They are welcome and you want them to have a positive experience. 
  • They are coming into the program outside of the normal intake procedure, so some concessions will need to be made.
  • You will provide them with as full an experience as possible, but will change their exercises and rest periods as necessary to ensure their safety and enable them to keep up with the class.
  • They need to let you know any time they are struggling, need extra rest, experience pain, or are having any trouble at all. 

Establishing open communication early and using the above strategies for quickly assessing abilities and programming a workout should allow for smoothly integrating a new participant into your boot camp or group training session, even when they have dropped in unexpectedly. I hope these tips enable you to fearlessly accept new drop-in participants and add a ton of new and profitable members to your program.

Nick’s Upcoming Live Events

In Spokane, WA on April 12-13 attending the Inland Empire Fitness Conference.

In Boston, MA on May 12, 2019 teaching a Strength Training for Fat Loss & Conditioning: Practical Program Design Course.

In Toronto, Ontario on June 1-2, 2019 teaching at the Strong Summit.

In Mexico City, Mexico on June 28-30, 2019 teaching at the One Fitness Weekend congress.

In Bangkok, Thailand on October 10-14, 2019 teaching at the Asia Fit Conference.

Author Bio:

Georgette Pannis the owner of NutriFitness LLC/Fitness Bootcamp Pros. She has 25+ years experience in the Health and Fitness field with expertise in fitness bootcamps. She is author and creator of the best selling Sure Victory Fitness Bootcamp Business in a Box and publisher of Done-for-You products and programs for Fit Pros SmartFitProWorkouts.

You can learn more about Georgette on here facebook page and website blog for Fit Pros: TheFitnessBootCampClub.com

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